This story appeared in Edition 16 of Mid North Coast Now. To read this issue click here
The Dorrigo branch of the Country Women’s Association had a high-flying member, Tanya Cameron, join its ranks in 2017.
At the time, she had just stepped down from a three-year term as the CWA’s state president for NSW, and in September 2018 she became the national president.
On Australia Day this year she was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, “for service to the community, particularly to women”.
Tanya Cameron OAM, who is 58, was shepherded into the CWA 34 years ago by her mother-in-law soon after moving to her husband’s family farm at Rowena, on the north-west plains between Moree and Narrabri.
“Jeff and I were married in March 1985 and his mother came home from the annual CWA meeting that October and said she’d joined me up,” Tanya said.
Tanya comes from farming stock but her own mother had always referred to the CWA as “the cranky women”.
“I was a little bit horrified, if I’m honest, but I started going to meetings,” Tanya said. “It was a way to meet people.”
In 1992 she won the CWA Country Woman of the Year competition at group level, and part of the application process involved answering questions about the history of the organisation.
“I had to do my research and I was quite impressed by the work that they’d done. At a branch level it’s hard to grasp the full extent of the work that the organisation does, and the influence it has and continues to have.
“While I have never been overly interested in all the competitions, I loved the idea of being able to have a voice to advocate for rural, regional and remote women, for agriculture, for all of the things that we were living.”
Tanya said the confidence to move up to the highest levels of the organisation and speak up on national issues came from strong role models she found in the CWA.
"I would have to say it was the members of the Barwon group," she said. "There's a lot of strong women in the bush, and they were very encouraging and very supportive. They encouraged me to take on positions, to try something different.
"Also, when the Rural Women's Network started, they had a leadership program called Stepping Stones. And we organised a weekend course, we had two or three professional people come and speak about leadership, meeting procedures and public speaking. It was just low-key and local, but it gave me a bit of a taste."
She also learned that many of those she met as a representative of the CWA didn't actually know much about rural, regional and remote Australia.
"Particularly people who are making decisions on our behalf. I don't have a degree, I don't profess to be an expert on anything, but I do know what it's like to live in rural, regional and remote areas."
Policies for dealing with drought and the plight of older women who find themselves homeless and poverty-stricken are issues that loom large for Tanya currently.
Other priority areas that the CWA will be tackling during her presidency are adequate resourcing for support services to address domestic violence; an end to alcohol advertising at sporting events; and increased funding across the board for mental health services.
Towards the end of 2018, when the National Party was reeling from multiple sex scandals, Tanya was on ABC radio calling for an end to misogynistic behaviour in politics.
“There appears to be a culture within the National Party that certainly doesn’t favour women and certainly doesn’t favour good behaviour,” she told the ABC interviewer, before going on to add that the same problems could be found in the other parties as well.
“I’ve received comments from members and non-members in support, and others who said ‘Oh, that’s a bit political’. But at the end of the day I don’t think there was anything I said that most people weren’t thinking.
“And I take the view that non-party-political isn’t non-political. The CWA has always been political because we’re an advocacy body and have been since 1922.”
With a federal election looming, the CWA is preparing to make its views clear to politicians.
"We'll be writing to the major parties outlining our policy priorities and engaging on the issues that matter, to women specifically and their communities generally," Tanya said.
The CWA has always been political because we’re an advocacy body and have been since 1922Tanya Cameron
The Camerons moved to their 65 hectare property at Fernbrook about 18 months ago, but so far Tanya’s busy schedule – which also includes honouring a commitment to serve as a councillor for Walgett Shire until September 2020 – hasn’t allowed her to spend much time with the Dorrigo CWA branch members.
“I’ve been to a couple of meetings,” she said. “But I was keeping a low profile for a little while.”
She’d had a busy few years as state president and a lot happening on the domestic front in the months before and after the move, including staging a wedding on the property at Rowena for eldest son Josh and his bride Roz and later welcoming their baby Madeline to the family.
All three of Tanya and Jeff’s adult children work with them in their farming business, and the decision to move was initiated by the desire to stay on the land together while having opportunities to pursue other interests.
Transferring the farm from Rowena to Fernbrook was a protracted process, as it involved moving not only six adults and a baby but also 200 Hereford cows and their progeny.
The Hereford herd represented years of breeding for particular traits, hence the decision to relocate rather than sell them.
Just moving the cows and calves required six B-double trailer loads, and as Jeff’s family had been living at ‘Mayleigh’ for 92 years, four generations’ worth of stuff had to be dealt with as well.
“There was a lot to sort through, some of it with particular memories,” Tanya said. “When you’ve got space and you don’t have to get rid of stuff, it accumulates.”
Tanya thinks the three-day trek each month to attend council meetings in Walgett complements her role as CWA national president, by keeping her in touch with the reality of farmers’ lives in drier areas.
“Particularly when I’m advocating for people in drought,” she said. “Because it does dull your senses, living here with all the green. Going out there grounds me and reminds me what drought feels like.”